May 26, 2012

Come Drink with Me (1966)

Directed by King Hu. Starring Cheng Pei-Pei ("Golden Swallow"), Yueh Hua ("Drunken Cat"), Chen Hung Lieh ("Jade Faced Tiger"), and Li Yunzhong ("Smiling Tiger"). Not Rated.

Source: Region 1 DVD (Dragon Dynasty/Wenstein Company/Genius)
Running time: 01:34:42
Country: Hong Kong

Doesn't the title "COME DRINK WITH ME" sound like the name of a Spanish romantic comedy? No? Well, it does to me. But the actual film is anything but Spanish or romantic. There's a little bit of comedy in there, but it's not a comedic film per se. Produced by Shaw Brothers studios and set during the Ming Dynasty, COME DRINK WITH ME is in fact one of the earlier examples of the Wuxia film produced by Shaw Brothers, and it's highly regarded amongst enthusiasts of Hong Kong cinema. As for me - and I've stated this before in other reviews of similar films - I'm still very new to Hong Kong cinema from this era and don't know a lot about the background of these films, but I enjoy watching them. For example, it wasn't even until doing research for this movie that I even knew it was considered to be a favorite of many. I just knew that it was about a female lead character who kicks ass, which is good enough for me.

A gang, led by the vampiric-looking Jade Faced Tiger, ambushes a group of government types as they're transporting some prisoners, killing them all in the process except for the Governor's son whom they kidnap and hold hostage in exchange for the release of their leader. It isn't long before the Governor's daughter, who goes by the name of Golden Swallow (you know she's wifey material with a name like that), is sent to reclaim her brother. In a tavern fight sequence early in the film that's very reminiscent of a Western, it's established that Golden Swallow is pretty much the wrong bitch to mess with. Members of Jade Faced Tiger's gang are there, and as Golden Swallow sits down to order a drink, she's individually tested by members of the gang to see what she's made of. A fight ensues, ending with neither side backing down and each side giving the other an ultimatum. It's a great section of the film cinematically and in terms of how the characters are introduced.

During this opening tavern sequence, an annoying drunk guy comes into the picture, who's appropriately nicknamed Drunken Cat. He seems like a throwaway character at first, but he gradually becomes an important part of the story. In fact, his plot thread about someone from his past coming back to haunt him, at times, overshadows the main storyline that's set up and becomes the main focus, but they all sort of tie together anyway. During the film, we see an interesting character arc in regards to Drunken Cat (I love these nicknames), but not before we get a couple of musical sequences involving him and a group of orphans, which were actually a few of the highlights of the film for me. Speaking of which, apparently none other than Jackie Chan himself claims to have been one of the orphans in the film, but it's been disputed by actress Cheng Pei-Pei.

As with most of these movies that I've seen that feature a number of villains instead of just one or two, the characters are diverse and a lot of fun. Not only do the actors playing them have great, menacing faces, but they each basically have their own little gimmicks that make them stand out from the rest of the villains. Even the minor bad guys are memorable because they don't necessarily blend in with crowds of people. My favorite character as far as the villains is the leader of the group, Jade Faced Tiger, who, as I mentioned earlier, almost resembles a vampire because of his white makeup and skinny, Nosferatu-like frame. Having a whole squad of villains is also great because, if used correctly, there's a pecking order established, which introduces a bunch of obstacles for the protagonist as opposed to the ol' black hat versus white hat scenario.

It should be said that there's not a lot of hand-to-hand combat in the film, if any. Most of the fight sequences involve weapons, which is pretty cool, although I do prefer me some insane Hong Kong hand-to-hand fighting despite the inclusion of weapons opening up the possibilities for more bloodshed. One of the things that stands out about this movie to me has nothing to do with the action, though, but rather terrific music, which is hard to describe. It's like a combination of traditional percussion mixed with sweeping Spaghetti Western-esque music that brought to mind Ennio Morricone and a few other composers.

I know COME DRINK WITH ME is a pretty well-respected film, but I was a little let-down with it in certain ways. Don't get me wrong, I still enjoyed this film and don't consider it to be a disappointment as a whole, but in terms of the lead character, Golden Swallow, I was left wanting more, in that her role in the story almost takes a backseat to Drunken Cat and the film basically becomes something different in the third act. I kinda saw it as a strong female character being downgraded for no reason, but that's just my take. Other than that, I quite enjoyed this film but wouldn't consider it to be a favorite of the Shaw Brothers and Hong Kong Martial Arts films that I've seen. Still, though, great characters, lots of action (but not so much that it takes away from the plot), and a good story. On a side note, actress Cheng Pei-Pei was essentially cast in the film because of her ballet dancing skills rather than her acting or presence as an action star, which I thought was pretty interesting.

Score: 7


  1. I have always wanted to see Come Drink With Me, but alas it has always seemed to elude me. I am well aware of the positive rep it has with many Wuxia fans, so I am happy to read a review that isn't overly glowing. As a result, when I do see it, I will have better expectations. Great review, brother, and I hope to one day find a girl who will swallow my golden!

    1. Let me tell you, man, I once dated a Golden Swallow and it was awesome! Oh, and thanks for the feedback on my review. As far as HK movies from this era, I think I prefer some of the more over-the-top and violent stuff (FIVE DEADLY VENOMS and FIVE ELEMENT NINJAS are two favorites that come to mind) or movies that revolve around revenge, but this one does have a lot of elements that I like about these types of movies.

  2. This isn't a favorite of mine, but I like it for its place in history. Some of the set ups and sets are quite striking assisted in no small part by the breadth of the Shaw Studio power of the time. They, at one time, had the largest privately owned film studio on the planet.

    A lot of folks rave about this picture and tend to look down at its sequel, the gore drenched GOLDEN SWALLOW (out on DVD here, too) because it puts the title character in the background... just as is done in this film. I brought this up to a lot of the snobbery directed at Chang Cheh's sequel, when it's glaringly obvious Golden Swallow seemingly disappears for a large chunk of the movie leaving it all to Yueh Hua. And I'm glad Aaron pointed it out, which is especially noteworthy considering you haven't seen a great many of these movies.

    Still, Golden Swallow remains the main point of interest in GOLDEN SWALLOW whether she gets to fight a lot or not. You'll have to see it, but there's two men in her life--one that loves her and one that she loves. Unfortunately, the one she loves is pretty much a madman going around the countryside slaughtering people left right and center to find her.

    But regarding COME DRINK WITH ME, Chen Hung Lieh is the vampiric character you refer to, Aaron. He was famous for his villain roles and played an hilariously memorable role as One Man Army in FEARLESS FIGHTERS, a batshit crazy non Shaw swordplay available on DVD from Image, and one that enjoyed a lengthy run on cable a few years ago.

    Chen was really good at playing weasely, evil bastards, and even played a good guy from time to time, amazingly enough. King Hu was a bit temperamental and apparently everything wasn't smooth sailing on this set (I did an article on Cheng Pei Pei that contains a rare behind the scenes shot of King Hu and Cheng from this film among many others) and he left Shaw's after at least two movies (apparently there's a third, a love story, but I've not seen it), the other being a war time set movie entitled SONS OF THE GOOD EARTH from 1965.

    King Hu got an award from Cannes in 1975 for his TOUCH OF ZEN film from 1971, which is considered a classic. But his career went nowhere when he went independent. He also tried his hand at Golden Harvest and that failed, too.

    Still, he's considered one of the HK industry's most important directors, although he's often eclipsed by Chang Cheh in light of how Chang literally transformed HK cinema virtually overnight.

    Going back to Yueh Hua, the Drunken Cat of CDWM, it's also worth mentioning he was cast in a film in 1971 to be called THE DRINKING KNIGHT. It was never finished, but what a shame that this picture was recast TWICE with not only new performers, but a new director as well not long after it began shooting the previous year in 1970.

    I'm honestly surprised you enjoyed this one as much as you did, Aaron. This isn't a picture I'd recommend out of enjoyment so much as its historical significance. And as always, a nicely done review, Aaron.

    1. Wow, thanks for all of that information, Brian! I always appreciate your feedback on these reviews since I'm sort of out of my element with any of the older Shaw Brothers movies. I was watching some of the bonus features on the Dragon Dynasty disc (they really jam-packed this release) and they were really informative. Tsui Hark raved about King Hu but also said that he wasn't the most prolific director and only came out with a movie every few years or something. But yeah, I thought this was pretty good. Even though I was disappointed with the lack of the Golden Swallow character, it's still a film of high quality and I dug the villains.